Rick Dunham is an Oklahoma State graduate, Afghanistan combat veteran, and current graduate student.
The son and grandson of fighter pilots from the Gulf and Vietnam War eras, Rick Dunham wanted to serve in a different fashion. He chose to serve in the US Army as a tank commander and scout platoon leader.
Rick received his undergraduate degree from Oklahoma State University on an Army ROTC scholarship, where he was on the OSU Rugby team, and led the Army ROTC push-up board and t-shirt cannon teams during OSU football and basketball games. He graduated in 2008 and commissioned as an Active Duty Armor Officer.
Rick left active duty in 2015 and returned to Stillwater, Oklahoma. He immediately got active in his community. While back home, Rick continued his military service as an Army Reservist, receiving an early promotion to the rank of Major in 2018. It was this same year that he decided to further his education, pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Relations with an emphasis on National Security.
Whether he’s volunteering with local charity organizations, mentoring college students on planning and leadership, or working with government officials on Veteran-related healthcare issues, Rick’s dedication to serving his community and country is unmatched.
Rick lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma with his wife of 6 years, Michelle, who works in physical therapy. They enjoy spending their time together by working out, eating at new restaurants in town and supporting OSU. When Rick isn’t spending time with his family, he can be found volunteering with the American Legion and with Veterans organizations who share his vision of a healthy, thriving, secure, and prosperous Oklahoma.
1. Who is someone who has inspired you, either personally, professionally or historically? And what about them makes them inspiring?
Every time I’m asked about who inspires me, the answer is different. Part of the reason is that there are several people who inspire me in different ways depending on the situation. As a veteran I tend to be attracted to the actions of military leaders of the past who faced insurmountable odds or developed innovative solutions to the problems they faced.
Non-military, I’m drawn to thinkers…the “Ninja Turtles” of the Italian Renaissance, the Philosophers of Ancient Greece, etc. For me, looking at the world in such innovative ways and recognizing how old models were insufficient inspires me as I look at the ways some of our old models are insufficient for an always online, interconnected world.
2. If you could change one thing in Oklahoma, what would that one thing be? And how would you do it?
Oh my goodness, I don’t think one thing can be picked here. Where do I even begin to answer this question? If I HAD to pick one thing, I’d go with a state economy that didn’t continuously drive our college graduates and post-grad professionals to other states with better paying job opportunities.
3. What issue do you wish voters knew more about?
Easily, Cybersecurity. There is an active Cyber conflict raging across the world and every single one of us is a part of it whether we want to be or not. From a crime perspective, cyber crime is the wave of the future in terms of criminal activity. Oklahoma is the kind of state where our home owners express an enduring fear of someone breaking into their home, while the really dangerous criminals have figured out how to achieve the same thing a break-in would seek to achieve without putting themselves at risk because cyber crime is, currently, almost impossible to enforce.
4. If elected, what legacy do you hope to leave for Oklahoma?
Something that bothers me about Oklahoma legislators is a continuous failure to keep future generations of legislators in mind when they consider what kind of policies to pursue. One of the platform issues for my campaign is building economic diversity in Oklahoma. It’s frustrating for me, as a political candidate, to tell voters we can’t fix the problems we have in Oklahoma because we don’t have the money or financial stability to fix them. Past generations of legislators have chosen the easy path and failed to emphasize building a resilient, diverse economy. That’s not something I want future generations of legislators to face.
- What steps will you take to ensure equal access to voting rights for all, including the elderly, disabled, and impoverished?
I support implementing a robust “vote by mail” approach as implemented in many states. This will improve voter turnout and access for our disadvantaged citizens.
- What experience have you had with discrimination or prejudice, and how do you plan to use your platform to end the unjust treatment of people based on their race, ethnicity, immigration status, gender identity/orientation, religion, class, etc.?
I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual male that lives in a world tailor-made for my success. Personally, I haven’t dealt with discrimination or prejudice.
One thing about me is that I’m a bit of a night owl; pre-pandemic, every so often, pre-pandemic, I would go to wal-mart late at night and get some food. That’s when I learned that the Muslim community in my district preferred to shop for groceries. They didn’t feel safe or accepted…and that’s in a fairly progressive (for Oklahoma), well-educated town like Stillwater.
I don’t think addressing discrimination or prejudice is a legislative problem. I believe it’s a leadership problem. While I support things like passing the ERA, I also recognize that the passage of the ERA in Oklahoma would do little substantively separate from many anti-discrimination laws that currently exist. I’m unaware of any law, for that matter, that can address and/or change people’s hearts and minds. As a State Senator, it’s important that I continuously seek to address issues of discrimination as a community leader, amplifying the voices of those affected by discrimination, and, if need be, addressing currently legislative failures in combating a society that leads to the creation of marginalized communities.
- What are your thoughts on gerrymandering, and do you think politicians should be allowed to draw their own district lines?
I don’t support gerrymandering of any kind, and gerrymandering is something both parties are guilty of. I support the efforts of groups like “People Not Politicians” to build independent re-districting bodies in Oklahoma.
Gun violence and the Second Amendment:
- What can elected officials do to end the epidemic of gun violence in Oklahoma, and how can you use your platform to protect children and families while still recognizing Second Amendment rights?
Full disclosure, I tend more conservative on gun rights issues than the average Democrat. That said, there are two things I would like to go after when it comes to 2A issues in Oklahoma
1) One of the most common trends in active shooter situations across the US or in acts of gun violence is a lack of training. Very, very few acts of gun violence stem from individuals that are properly trained and build a respect for firearms and their capabilities.
2) I believe carrying a firearm is a massive responsibility. One of the biggest ways that responsibility is violated is through negiligent discharge…when an armed person fires their weapon without meaning to. I believe negligent discharge should be a felony offense in Oklahoma.
- How do you think Oklahoma became the incarceration capitol of the world? What do you think is needed to reduce our overburdened jai/prison population and make our criminal justice system more humane?
I think there’s many things that led to Oklahoma’s status as a the “incarceration capitol of the world”, and one of those is a reliance on for-profit prisons. I believe the ideal purpose of any criminal justice system is one that continuously seeks to prevent crimes from happening in the first-place…and a crime prevention approach would be inconsistent with a for-profit prison model. In the past, Oklahoma’s approach to decreasing crime (something that’s been occurring for a few decades now) is to just make new laws that can send people to jail.
Fixing this requires answering the following question: What kind of crimes should send someone to prison? Some of those answers (like murder, for instance) are obvious, but our state has an over-abundance on people in prison for relatively simple and benign drug charges. Whatever the answer we create to the question above needs to be consistent over time. At the same time, we need to recognize that, as we seek to prevent crimes from happening in the first place, that for-profit prisons are, and should, go out of business.
The economy is changing, and the way we make money along with it. These changes have brought dramatic growth to Payne County’s jobs and economic development, but the downside to these changes is that ever-increasing numbers of our people struggle to build wealth or even meet their basic needs. Few people lose their jobs outright; they often transition to part-time work, causing a loss in income and, in some cases, their health insurance. Additionally, small-business owners find themselves unable to compete with big-business chains who can access the global market and afford the initial investment automation requires. As your State Senator, it is my oath to ensure that your livelihood and interests are protected as changes in the economy increasingly impact our daily lives.
Education is THE cornerstone issue to every state. The best states in our country, across the board, are the states with the best education systems. Education is the topic you will hear every candidate for office talk about, and for good reason. Of the powers delegated to the states in the U.S. Constitution, education is the most important. There are three education issues, however, that remain undiscussed in public discourse. First, we must recognize that the Oklahoma education system doesn’t exist in a vacuum; our state is in competition with other states for strong education systems. Oklahoma’s poor stewardship of our public education is the reason we’ve lost 30,000 teachers to neighboring states in 6 years. It does us little good to restore 2009-level funding to public education when neighboring states are funding at 2019-2020 levels. Second, we must consider the learning environment’s we are creating for our children and the working conditions we subject our teachers and support staff to. A classroom with 35 students, including several students with behavioral issues, is not a learning environment; teachers aren’t teaching students under those conditions; they’re just trying to make it through the day. Third, education systems are designed to enable students to contribute to our society and find employment. However, the demands of the world economy are changing rapidly, and future employment needs are difficult to predict. Therefore, we must focus on producing members of our society that are flexible and can work in a variety of fields. This requires an emphasis on the fundamentals and teaching students how to think, not what to think. This requires increasing funding for creative subjects like reading, music or art; STEM topics are always critical, but it’s through the creative subjects that we teach students “how to think” independently.
A Healthcare crisis infects our State. Oklahoma has the 4th highest amount of hospital closures since 2010 and the highest when measured per capita. Everyday this state refuses to accept full Medicaid Expansion funds is another life lost due to this state’s refusal to accept the money we already pay into through our federal taxes. If we want our rural communities to thrive, then medical facilities must remain available to the residents of those communities. Otherwise, we risk our rural communities becoming ghost towns as job opportunities and adequate medical care becomes available only in larger cities.
Cybersecurity threats are among the greatest daily threat each one of us faces. It’s critical that we educate our people on how to protect themselves online. Oklahoma Cyber Command does a great job at protecting critical infrastructure and key resource assets here in the state of Oklahoma. But ensuring cybersecurity for ourselves and our state requires that all of us know what roles we play in cybersecurity and how protecting ourselves online protects others online, as well. Everyone must know how to protect their data. Everyone must know how to stop the spread of malicious code to others. Everyone must know how to spot scammers online and over the phone. It’s important that we ensure everyone knows how to combat these threats, protect themselves, and protect each other in an increasingly interconnected world.